The federal government is vowing a new bill that will address several affordability issues will come “imminently.”
MPs returned to Ottawa Monday for the resumption of the House of Commons following a summer break that saw the governing minority Liberals slide in the polls as the Opposition Conservatives gained traction.
The polls have suggested the Tories would do a better job dealing with affordability and housing issues; Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has spent the summer touring the country, hammering the government on economic issues and presenting his own plan to lower costs and build more homes.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser joined government House leader Karina Gould in Ottawa Monday to outline the government’s priorities for this fall session.
“Our government has a square focus this fall on affordability,” Fraser told reporters.
Gould teased that a bill will be coming “imminently” that will address several affordability issues.
“When it comes to housing, when it comes to groceries, when it comes to the Competition Act … this will be presented imminently in the House of Commons,” she said.
“It will be a comprehensive bill related to the prime minister’s announcement on Thursday that is a response to the needs of Canadians right now. It’s building off the really good work that parliamentarians have done over the past year.”
Last Thursday after a three-day Liberal caucus retreat, Justin Trudeau announced a slew of measures to bring relief to Canadians, including tasking Canada’s five largest grocery companies to come up with a plan by Thanksgiving to stabilize prices. The Liberals are floating the idea of forcing them to do so through tax measures if their plan is not sufficient.
Furthermore, the Liberals also said they will take steps to give the Competition Bureau the power to take action on corporations that work together to stifle consumer choice – specifically citing large grocery stores that have prevented competitors from setting up shop nearby.
But most of Thursday’s measures surrounded housing, with Ottawa pledging to remove GST on the construction of new rental apartment buildings – a move Trudeau first promised in the 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power.
The measure would lower the cost of labour and materials for homebuilders, the Liberals said.
“I do want to give people comfort that whether the legislation is announced today or a week from now, the solution will be retroactive to the date of the announcement,” Fraser said Monday.
“There’s not a loss for the construction sector by virtue of the precise time that the legislation is tabled because they can go ahead with the projects knowing that the change will be implemented as of September 14.”
Fraser acknowledged “a number of different challenges” impacting the housing sector and those desperate for a place to call home.
“By speaking with experts, by engaging with communities and actually listening to the concerns of ordinary people, we can identify the solutions to the specific problems that have caused Canada’s housing shortage and Canada’s housing crisis,” he said.
Pharmacare bill to come soon
Gould vowed Monday that a long-awaited bill on a national pharmacare plan will be presented sometime during this session.
“We look forward to debate in the House on this bill from all sides, but we do not believe that those opposed to pharmacare should be allowed to block it by deliberate political obstruction on the floor of the House,” she said.
“We believe the bill should come to a final vote in the House before Christmas. Canadians deserve to see action on pharmacare, not political roadblocks and we call on all MPs to offer constructive, collaborative and thoughtful debate on our plans, but we will not let self-serving, partisan obstruction stand in the way of getting results for Canadians.”
The timing of the pharmacare bill coincides with an earlier demand from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Singh, whose party signed a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals in March 2022 to support the minority government in key votes until 2025, said earlier this year that he would consider it a deal-breaker if Ottawa failed to introduce and pass the pharmacare bill this year.
“We want to see a national framework presented in Parliament, and passed in Parliament before the end of the year,” Singh said on Jan. 19.
“That’s something we fought for in the agreement, we negotiated, and we expect to be there.”
The agreement stipulates that a pharmacare bill must be tabled by the end of 2023 and that a “National Drug Agency” will be tasked to “develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”
“If they don’t follow through with what we forced them to agree to, then we have the power or option of withdrawing our support,” Singh said at the time.
Gould said Monday that the government has been able to deliver some “really amazing things for Canadians” through that agreement, including child care, the housing benefit and national dental care.
“Pharmacare is something that as Liberals we have been looking to advance for a long time,” she said.
“We’re glad to have this partnership with the NDP to deliver real, tangible benefits to Canadians that are improving their lives.”
— with files from The Canadian Press